Management Skills: Are You Asking your Employees Enough Questions?

management skillsI was recently struck by something I read Oprah Winfrey had said that, I think, has real relevance to the way we manage our employees. She said:

‘Everyone wants validation. They want to know: Do you see me? Do you hear me? Does what I say matter to you?’

Of course, in order to answer the question ‘do you hear me?’ we sometimes need a way of helping our employees to feel confident in actually saying something! This is where questions play their part – great questions that engage our employees in conversations where we can demonstrate a resounding ‘yes I hear what you say and what you say matters’

Here are some of my favourite questions:

Management Skills: Great questions to ask your employees

For getting clear on performance objectives / standards

  • What do you think effective performance looks like for this part of your job?
  • Which of these descriptions can we agree as performance objectives?

Helping the employee understand the importance of their work

  • Why do you think it’s important to the team / department / business that you achieve these objectives?

(Read more on why this is important in ‘Management Skills: Help employees to understand the bigger picture’)

Involving employees in monitoring their own performance

  • How will you know that you are meeting this objective?
  • What do you think is the best way for us to monitor performance against this objective?

For Performance Appraisal

  • What needs to happen for you to find our planned appraisal meeting really motivational?
  • How would you evaluate your performance against the agreed objectives?
  • What have been your key achievements and successes?
  • What areas for development have you identified?
  • How can we best meet those development needs?
  • Have there been any barriers to achieving your objectives?
  • What needs to happen for you to overcome those barriers?
  • Are there any changes facing the team or business that will require new performance objectives?
  • Are there any performance objectives you think are no longer appropriate, or need amending?  

(You can see these questions presented as a ‘Performance Appraisal Checklist’ in ‘How to Help Your Employee Prepare for the Appraisal Meeting’)

Job Satisfaction

  • What gives you the most satisfaction in your work?
  • How could we ensure you maintain or improve that satisfaction?
  • Are there any other ways you and I could improve your satisfaction?
  • Is there anything I could do; more of, less of, or differently to improve your job satisfaction?

(Read more on why that last question is so powerful in ‘Improving Employee Job Satisfaction Using Just One Golden Question‘)


Of course there are many other great questions you can ask your employees. What questions do you ask? What are your ‘great’ questions?


11 Responses to Management Skills: Are You Asking your Employees Enough Questions?

  1. Hi Joan

    My specialist subject these days is the way people deal with uncertainty at work, and it’s quite important in performance appraisals (to take just one example). For example, using personal objectives can be difficult if the future is very hard to predict because, by the time you get to appraisals, they are more likely to be obsolete. Some people do jobs where nobody knows what good performance really looks like; the keys to great results are a mystery and finding them is a big part of the job.

    To explore this I’ve devised a ‘test’ with imaginary scenarios and I wonder if you or your readers would like to have a go. It’s the last test on this page,, and is called Conversations about performance. In fact they aren’t all about performance appraisal, but cover performance management more generally.

  2. joanhenshaw says:

    Hi Matthew
    Thanks for the comments. Your work sounds very interesting. To respond to a couple of your points; a) re obsolete performance objectives – I think this is only a major problem when performance is only reviewed annually (as often happens, at the appraisal). If performance, and performance objectives are reviewed on a quarterly basis they can then be amended to reflect the current scenaro / needs of the business etc b) I’ve never come across a job where ‘nobody knows what good performance looks like’. I’ve worked with lots of clients helping them define what good performance looks like for ‘tricky’jobs eg jobs that include a strong element of creativity. Have you got an example?

    I’ve taken a look at your test – very interesting!

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  5. Hi Joan

    An example of where nobody knows what good performance looks like? My job would be an example. I wish I knew what it is that I could do that would consistently work well!

    Lacking justifiable certainty I explore educated guesses. Sometimes in my life I have spent a long time driving hard at doing something because I thought I knew what I should be trying to achieve and how. Only later did I find that I had been wrong all along.

    When you’re employed in an organization, especially a big one with a lot of formal procedures, it is perhaps easier to feel that your job is defined and that there are expectations to try to meet. You have a boss, and that’s a big focus.

    When you’re self employed it is easier to feel like you’re toiling away, trying to find a business model that really works. You don’t have a boss whose perceptions help to define your role in practice.

    I think that’s why a lot of us experiment with different ideas, looking for improvements.

    On the subject of obsolete performance objectives, you’re right that annual targets are a real problem and quarterly is much better. However, it depends on youir role. In general, more senior people tend to have performance measures that reflect the work of more people and so, by statistics, their measures tend to be more stable and predictable. For example, a salesperson selling expensive computer systems to large companies will have sales figures that jump all over the place from one month to the next. However, the sales director, measured on the total sales of many sales people, will have relatively steady and predictable sales performance.

    I have often wondered if senior people appreciate that life is different down below.

  6. joanhenshaw says:

    Hi Matthew
    What an interesting response – you’ve really got me thinking! I totally understand your points re the difference betweent the employed and self employed person (and the ‘toiling away’ totally resonates with me). Having said that, I’m sticking with my original point that ‘what good performance looks like’ can be defined for any job. Let me try and demonstrate. I have been thinking about the types of performance objectives I would set myself if I were my boss and here are a couple of examples (off the top of my head so not brilliant)

    1. Identify 1 potential offline business opportunity and 1 potential online business opportunity each month
    2. Evaluate potential business opportunities against the following criteria:
    a) Proven buyers market
    b) Potential financial returns to exceed potential development and production costs by …%
    c) Proven route to market

    And so on. As I say, not brilliant but I hope you see my point (and I wish I had set these performance objectives for myself before I developed some of my products!)

    Best wishes


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  10. ll also help you identify when you may have to make some pit
    stops to adjust accordingly. The plan should provide individual employees with specific goals, objectives and milestones needed to achieve their long-term professional objectives
    and goals. Performance management is a complex task in today’s organizations.

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